I created a video of images, both old and current of First Nations people and played it before I started to preach.
Some of those are pretty powerful images given what we know about our history with First Nations people. They cast light on history that we probably would rather not know.
And yet, we do now know… and we cannot pretend… It was a dark time in our history and the ongoing injustice continues to be dark.
And yet, out of the dark, new understandings can be birthed. Out of the dark, new questions can be asked. Out of the dark, new ways forward can be shaped.
The passage from the gospel of John is so full of images and ideas that there could easily be a dozen different sermons about it. Since we are focusing on our relationship with First Nations people, that is the lens through which I am reading and interpreting this passage… that and being born again.
I want you to put yourself in Nicodemus shoes… you are a religious leader… respected in the community… and yet something about Jesus intrigues and fascinates you. And so you come… by night… to Jesus. Was he, as a Pharisee, afraid to being seen with Jesus, a leader of the people who seemed to have turned so many of the teachings upside down? Was he, as a Pharisee, a learned scholar, hesitant to admit his ignorance? Or was he simply, a man who was seeking to understand the way of God?
It seems to me that there is something of all of those elements in each of us as we are faced with an idea or concept that we do not know. There may be fear. There may be embarrassment. There may be shame. But there also may be an over-riding curiosity.
I suggest that we are ALL Nicodemus sometimes. And it is in darkness that we often voice are more vulnerable, important questions. Only daring to voice them under the cover of darkness of privacy.
Barbara Brown Taylor wrote a book entitled Learning to Walk in the Dark. She weaves together metaphors of light and dark, challenging the notion that darkness is dangerous and evil, and examining the physical, psychological and spiritual dimensions of our society’s addiction to light. She wonders what wisdom and knowledge is disappearing because so few of us experience any real darkness.
Most of you have heard my story of being afraid of the dark when I was on silent retreat at Tatamagouche Centre. And yet, despite this fear of physical darkness, I have not been fearful of metaphorical darkness. Somewhere I have learned that expending energy to avoid the dark places in my soul is actually counter-productive; that there is much wisdom to be gained by going into my dark places.
The Bible is full of metaphors of light and dark; often darkness is portrayed as something bad. And yet, not all references to darkness in the Bible are negative. It is in the darkness that God speaks to Moses. It is in the darkness of the earth that the seed germinates. It is the darkness of the tomb that the resurrection is made possible.
What if we faced the darkness of our history with First Nations people, went into it and be born again with new intentions. In this passage, Jesus says that we must be “born again.” The term “born again” makes many of us uncomfortable. We tend to associate it with fundamentalist faiths and we are self- conscious of professions of faith or personal testimonials of faith. But what if we think about being born again as having an experience of being changed by God? An experience of growth. A experience of transition. A experience of becoming something different from what we were. A story of being born again.
Some of us have had life changing experiences that do alter our perception of God in an instant. An experience of wonder or majesty or fear. Some of us have had more gradual changes. Small changes that perhaps occurred over a great length of time. Changes that happened so slowly that we didn’t notice them until one day we realized that we were not the same people we were five or ten or twenty years ago. Both of those experiences are of being born again. I believe that it doesn’t matter that we do not understand how we are reborn in the light of God’s love. It just matters that we are understand that we are. And that we are open to the possibilities of being reborn.
Birth is a journey that we undertake without rational thought. Being reborn can be the same or it can be very intentional. The image of birth helps us to understand how life can be seen as a divine process of transformation. In birth and new life there are times of struggle, and pain, and letting go. When giving birth, there is a stage in the process of labour which is terrifyingly unpredictable. Any woman who has given birth is familiar with this, as well as many men who are with their wives through the process. This period is known as the transition stage and it signals the culmination of labor and the beginning of the actual birth. We are in a time of transition in this Pastoral Charge. And what better time to enter into a new relationship with our First Nations sisters and brothers.
For those of you who participated in the Blanket Exercise, did you chat over coffee last week about a possible next step?
Let us go into that darkness that is our relationship with First Nations… the darkness that harbours the seed of new life. Let us go into that darkness… to be reborn once again. Let us go into that darkness… to join hands with all of our relations.
Thanks be to God for the challenge and the opportunity, amen.
Lent 2 – John 3: 1-17 – Elmsdale Pastoral Charge – March 12, 2017
Rev. Catherine MacDonald